Ken and I want to get married.
Oh, not right now. We agree it's still too soon. But it's not too soon to start talking about it, planning for it. It takes a long time to plan a wedding, to say nothing of a marriage.
Next August makes sense. That's when my lease is up on the room where I'm living. It'll be our first anniversary as a couple (and two years since we met -- certainly that year of suffering silent crushes on one another in Quantum Mechanics counts for something.) It'll be between terms, so that we won't be dealing with classes or teaching. He'll be 27 and I'll be turning 25 at the end of that month, so we're old enough. And we don't want to wait too much longer, because we're in love.
We've been wanting to go to Europe together -- he's never been. I plan to show off the UK and France and Germany with proprietary pride, as if I'd invented them. And we're going to try for Switzerland and maybe even Northern Italy as well, if we can find the time, which we will discover together. We are going to conquer Europe.
If we get married in August we can go as newlyweds, make this our honeymoon. And that suggests another idea -- to get married while we're there, instead of before. This is appealing for lots of reasons, some of them very selfish.
We were stressed out, talking about the idea, by the problems of where to have it, whom to invite, what kind of ceremony, how to pay. Ken's best friends and part of his family live here in Chicago. My family is in Colorado, Kansas, Texas, and Oklahoma. My friends are scattered to the four winds, up and down the west coast, the midwest, the UK. There are people who can't be invited if other people are. And we're both of us a little anti-social, intimidated by the prospect of playing host to so many people, with some powerful personalities. Even the idea is exhausting. There are religious issues, since I grew up Catholic but he did not, and the Catholic Church would require sacred oaths that neither of us is completely comfortable swearing, because we might, in different ways, feel like hypocrites at our own wedding. We can't risk saying anything we don't mean, making any promises we can't keep, on that day of all days.
But I'm not comfortable with the idea of a justice of the peace, either, in a drab room with strangers. I wouldn't feel really married. I don't view this as a contract. I hate the thought of marriage as a mere legal arrangement, with certain tax benefits and etc, to be dissolved when it is no longer advantageous to both parties. (Part of the reason I like the idea of marriage is that it will soothe my fear of losing him. A merely legal wedding admits the possibility of divorce.) This has nothing to do with the law, in my mind. The law can't require you to share each other's sufferings, forgive each other's flaws, keep each other company as you grow old. It doesn't require you to raise children together, to join one another's families, to collaborate in each other's work, and to be there for the other even if something horrible and permanent afflicts on of you, or your children... This is bigger than the law. This is the foundation of civilization, the root of every culture, one of the meanings of life.
And yes, I know the wedding is not the marriage. You could do all of that without any ceremony at all. But it's a symbol, and symbols are important to me. Symbols allow you to take a million separate experiences which are diffused in your daily existence and call them all by one name, represent them with one experience. You have to do that, collect them all together so that the common theme can emerge, the pattern, the abstraction, the meaning. Life has meaning, but it is diluted in the mudane. Symbols concentrate it, so that you can taste it... I want a better symbol than a civil servant in an government office, a better image to associate with my marriage.
So we're getting married in Europe. Just a small ceremony, but in a beautiful place. And far removed from our everyday lives, so that this experience will stick out in our memories.
A few witnesses, but no reception. We'll keep it small enough that we can all get a table at a bar afterward, if we like. And after that we'll have no duty to anyone but ourselves, with a continent at our feet. We won't have to borrow money or accept too much generosity (although we wouldn't mind a little...) or spend months fulfilling social obligations to hundreds of people.
When we had made up our minds to marry in Europe, I decided to try to arrange for a wedding in England, because I've lived in England and I speak English, and I know people there who might serve as witnesses. (Though I haven't asked anyone yet, and am a little worried about hurting people's feelings. I can't ask more than two or three. It wouldn't be fair to Ken, and our whole plan would be spoiled.) But we came up against a problem faced by people in innumerable British historical novels -- it makes me happy, in a funny way, to find myself in such a novelistic predicament. You have to reside there seven days, then post notice fifteen days in advance. But we don't want to spend three weeks in Europe before getting married. In British historical novels, people solve this problem by running away to Scotland, and I think that's what we're doing too. We've found a place, beautiful but not too expensive, not too grand for a small ceremony, just over the border on the Tweed. We're trying to book it now.
And that's my big news.